Will Special Criminal Court be more trouble than worth?
Issue 65, February 2012
by Dimana Trankova
This periodical has been selected to be supported in a media pluralism promotion contest funded by the Open Society Institute – Sofi a. The content of publications in it is responsibility of the authors and in no circumstances should be regarded as an offi cial position of the Open Society Institute – Sofia.
We catch them, but they let them go. In plain language this translates as "We did our best but someone else is responsible for the failure," and of course it belongs to Boyko Borisov, the current prime minister, at the time when he was a senior policeman in the government of the Simeon II National Movement. 10 years later it is still very much in currency. It pops up every time the police spectacularly "catch" an alleged criminal but fail to provide enough evidence to stand up in court.
One might think that improving the standard of police work would help, specifically after the significant number of botched investigations in the previous years.
The government, however, takes a different line. They say the judiciary are to blame. This belief became more pronounced than ever at the beginning of 2012, when Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov publicly accused a prominent judge of having connections to the mafia. His charges coincided with the unveiling of GERB's own grand project, the institution that, according to the government, will put an end to all high profile crime. This is the Special Criminal Court, or SCC, which was established to fight corruption and organised crime by thwarting the they-let-them-go option. It has no counterpart in the EU but the government claims full international support for it. According to documents revealed by Wikileaks, in July 2009 Tsvetanov shared the idea for the special court with the then American Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, and received sympathy for it.
The need for the SCC, however, is still disputed. "Judicial specialisation can be beneficial in increasing effectiveness, particularly in areas of specific legal or procedural complexity or where high levels of non-legal expertise, like accounting, is required," Hristo Ivanov, from the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, says. "The downside is that such courts can become opaque islets controlled by tightly-knit professional cliques. When it comes to criminal law, these courts tend to cultivate a bias in favour of the prosecution. It is no coincidence that specialised tribunals are often used by repressive regimes and in exceptional political situations."
The legislation governing the SCC was implemented in January 2011. The new institution is divided into prosecutor's offices for penal and financial crimes, and first and second instance courts. The SCC is Sofia-based and has the status of a regional court in the ranking system of the Bulgarian judiciary.
Even professionals are puzzled about how the SCC will work. "It was created without a clear definition of what judicial or social problems it is meant to resolve. Its broad jurisdiction is far from having a well defined focus," Ivanov says. He is positive that the problems in the Bulgarian criminal law system begin long before a case is brought before a judge. "Most of the delays and failures in evidence collection are incurred by the police or prosecution offices and later surface in the courtroom to abort the outcome. Badly trained, equipped and motivated police officers and prosecutors often lack the ability or the will to investigate complex and serious crime. Even where such cases come up without the initiative of the police and the prosecution, the successful collection of evidence and the effective litigation is all too often beyond their capacity. This certainly calls for specialisation and investment in the prosecution and police offices, but it is difficult to see how the creation of a specialised court would help in that respect."
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers